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John Tierney (Wirral, UK)
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Sweet Tooth
Sweet Tooth
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.19

84 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, 22 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Sweet Tooth (Hardcover)
I wasn't convinced by McEwan's attempt at humour in Solar and this is very much a return to what I think he is good at. The story of Serena Frome (rhymes with plume!) and narrated by her, it tells of her progression from studying maths at Cambridge (whilst nurturing her real passion for literature) to her recruitment by MI5 in the early 70s. MI5 at that time is very much a male-dominated organisation and the women recruited are given mostly admin tasks. Serena has left a relationship with an older married man at Cambridge (who groomed her for MI5) and is attracted to Max, a senior colleague at work. But her life changes when she is given a real assignment - managing a young author, Tom Haley, who MI5 believe to have the right (sic) tendencies to write the type of thing they like i.e. anti-communist essays and novels. Serena persuades Tom to accept funding (with its real source hidden) to support his work, but things are (somewhat predictably) complicated as she is immediately attracted to him and vice versa. From then it's only a matter of time before things start to unravel and although the novel is not exciting as such, the prose is extremely taut and is fairly un-putdownable.

I was concerned early on in the book that there was a lot of writing about writing going on, something I detest. And there are a lot of references to books and authors - there is even a very famous author who has a part in the book, although we never "see" him directly. But eventually I was won over by how McEwan meshes the plot, discussions about literature and even some short stories (including one about the Monty Hall problem (worth googling) and how it might - and might not - be the source of a short story about infidelity. The sense of the early 70s is well done and it there are fairly obvious points made about global financial crises then and now, although done implicitly and handled well. I couldn't spot many anachronisms and even if I could these could be explained away by the fact that Serena is narrating this from the present day.

I was a bit concerned about whether the author's voice was convincing as a woman in her sixties remembering her life in her late teens and early twenties and I have to say that I am sure this book will be up for a Bad Sex Award next time they are on. But it's certainly a page-turner and the final quarter of the book is extremely well handled and manages to throw in a twist or two. I don't think this is as good as, for example, The Innocent or The Child In Time (my favourite McEwan book) and it doesn't have the ability to shock like his early works (e.g. The Cement Garden) but it's very well done and certainly worth a read.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2014 2:36 PM GMT


The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-told, elegaic tour of England, 22 Sep 2012
This is a well-written book about a pensioner who decides on a whim to visit an ex-colleague of his who is dying of cancer at the other end of the country. Harold lives in Devon with his wife Maureen. Their marriage has fallen apart years ago and although they share the same house, they have seperate rooms and an existence that has become comfortable with seperation at close quarters. Receiving a letter from an ex-colleague of his (Queenie) Harold decides on a whim to walk all the way to Berwick to see her, totally unprepared. He wears only deck shoes, doesn't have a backpack or a proper coat etc. He is unprepared, but soldiers on, inspired by a girl he meets in a petrol station, believing that his mere act of walking will keep Queenie alive. We follow him as his trek impacts Maureen and her nosy next-door neighbour Rex and inspires others to join him.

What we don't find out about straight away are a number of things: why did Queenie disappear suddenly from work? Why does Harold feel her owes her something? Why did Harold and Maureen fall out? Where is their son living and why doesn't he speak to Harold any more. The answers to these questions are gradually revealed as Harold keeps walking.

The prose in this book appeared simple to start with, but it's actually very effective and the revealing of hidden secrets well-handled. Dialogue and actions of the participants are believable and consistent and it certainly rattles along and was an easy read. I found it interesting to compare this book with The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year, in which the protagonist takes to bed for a year and inspires people by doing so. This book is an inversion of that - Harold walks away and doesn't come home, but similiarly inspires people (and becomes famous in the process). But Rachel Joyce writes a better, more consistent tale that Sue Townsend and the result is more satisfying and credible.

I was slightly disappointed to find out that the book is based on an afternoon play, as this made me constantly try and imagine how each scene would have originally worked on radio, but this is a minor quibble and overall this is a good, easy, satisfying read which asks some good questions about ageing, memory, parenting and relationships. Certainly worth a go.


The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 25 (Mammoth Books)
The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 25 (Mammoth Books)
by Gardner Dozois
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still required reading on an annual basis, 14 Sep 2012
Firstly a warning: this book has exactly the same contents as Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection, The. The two series run in parallel each year and it's always confusing. The "Year's Best" series comes out slightly earlier and has better artwork on the cover, but suffers from being wider (and therefore less easy to hold) and more expensive. You pay your money, you takes your choice. I bought both one year but Amazon took one back, but be careful anyway.

Gardner Dozois's SF annual collections are a must-read for fans of SF short fiction, a real annual treat. This year is no exception and contains some excellent stories. Ranking each story between 1 (poor) and 5 (outstanding), I rated this year's stories as follows: 4 2-star stories, 10 3-star, 16 4- star and 5 5-star stories. The 5-star stories this year (in my opinion, and of course everyone will have a different set of favourites) were:
"The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick, the story of a young woman's journey on a space habitat, dressed up partially as a fairy tale.
"The Dala Horse" by Michael Swanwick, again this starts off reading like a fairy tale, but tells the story of a young girl's adventures in a future post-war Scandinavia: very visual
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman, the story of a young woman's political awakening on a far-flung planet
"What we found" by Geoff Ryman, a lesson in story telling, you almost don't notice the SF element (or care that it's a small part of the tale)
"A Militant Peace" by David Klecha and Tobias S Buckell - I am always wary of collaborations, but this is a really inventive tale of how North Korea might be invaded peacefully in the future.

Dozois always puts a novella at the end and this year the selection is "The Man Who Bridged The Mist", a 50-page tale by Kij Johnson. It's extremely well written and just fell short of a 5-star rating because it seems to fall into a semi-fantasy alternative earth rather than hard SF. I don't like fantasy or horror and this collection almost always avoids strong elements of either. Johnson's tale is almost but not quite SF, but that aside is a wonderful work and worth the wait.

The book is a long read (650 pages including the useful summary at the start), but I did notice a slight degradation in quality from last year, when I rated only 3 3-star and 23 4-star stories, so (again, only in my opinion) around 7 less stories made 4 stars and fell into the 3-star ("ok") category.

A cold division of total points divided by number of stories (35) gives 3.62 which I am more than happy to round up to 4, because this collection remains essential reading on an annual basis. Highly recommended.


The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
by Gardner Dozois
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.38

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite as good as last year, but still essential reading, 14 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Firstly a warning: this book has exactly the same contents as The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 25 (Mammoth Books). These series run in parallel each year and it's always confusing. The "Year's Best" series comes out slightly earlier and has better artwork on the cover, but suffers from being wider (and therefore less easy to hold) and more expensive. You pay your money, you takes your choice.

Anway, onto the content, which is - after all - what really matters. Gardner Dozois's SF annual collections are a must-read for fans of SF short fiction, a real annual treat. This year is no exception and contains some excellent stories. Ranking each story between 1 (poor) and 5 (outstanding), I rated this year's stories as follows: 4 2-star stories, 10 3-star, 16 4- star and 5 5-star stories. The 5-star stories this year (in my opinion, and of course everyone will have a different set of favourites) were:
"The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick, the story of a young woman's journey on a space habitat, dressed up partially as a fairy tale.
"The Dala Horse" by Michael Swanwick, again this starts off reading like a fairy tale, but tells the story of a young girl's adventures in a future post-war Scandinavia: very visual
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman, the story of a young woman's political awakening on a far-flung planet
"What we found" by Geoff Ryman, a lesson in story telling, you almost don't notice the SF element (or care that it's a small part of the tale)
"A Militant Peace" by David Klecha and Tobias S Buckell - I am always wary of collaborations, but this is a really inventive tale of how North Korea might be invaded peacefully in the future.

Dozois always puts a novella at the end and this year the selection is "The Man Who Bridged The Mist", a 50-page tale by Kij Johnson. It's extremely well written and just fell short of a 5-star rating because it seems to fall into a semi-fantasy alternative earth rather than hard SF. I don't like fantasy or horror and this collection almost always avoids strong elements of either. Johnson's tale is almost but not quite SF, but that aside is a wonderful work and worth the wait.

The book is a long read (650 pages including the useful summary at the start), but I did notice a slight degradation in quality from last year, when I rated only 3 3-star and 23 4-star stories, so (again, only in my opinion) around 7 less stories made 4 stars and fell into the 3-star ("ok") category.

A cold division of total points divided by number of stories (35) gives 3.62 which I am more than happy to round up to 4, because this collection remains essential reading on an annual basis. Highly recommended.


Mesh Lumbar Back Support for Office Chair Car Seat etc
Mesh Lumbar Back Support for Office Chair Car Seat etc
Offered by UK Home & Garden Store Ltd
Price: 5.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Good for your back and pocket, 9 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
My wife bought one of these on a whim in Home and Bargain for me to use at work. It provides simple cheap support on my chair so I wanted to get another one for the car - a physio recommended I get another since I drive for at least an hour and three quarters a day. I couldn't believe the price of this -2.80 including delivery, so bit of a no brainer. It's now in my car providing back support and a gap for fresh air in the summer. The delivery was fast and I recommend both the product and seller.


ASICS Men's Gt 2170 White/Blue/Orange Trainer T206N 0159 9 UK
ASICS Men's Gt 2170 White/Blue/Orange Trainer T206N 0159 9 UK
Offered by Jarrolds Department Store

5.0 out of 5 stars Continuing great quality, new design, 9 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The latest in the excellent ASICS 21x0 series of trainers, this shoe provides excellent support and hasn't been changed from the red version except for the white design with orange trim. I like the new design - it makes the trainer easier to wear casually without looking like you're about to run off somewhere. I put these on brand new yesterday and did 21 miles straight out of the box - no blisters today (although I wore double lined socks and used lots of Vaseline on my feet as I normally would). I waited till the price dropped to 64.99 for these - wouldn't want to pay getting on for 100 (o more) which I think you had to when they first came out. I've got 2 pairs of this design now, one for home and the other for my running kit for work.


BIC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
BIC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
Price: 18.75

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last - a transpender solution, 28 Aug 2012
At last - the solution I've been looking for. As a man with small hands, I'm always embarrassed to been seen using a pen. It looks so big it makes it so obvious my hands are small. People in the office constantly smirk and point at me. But now I don't have to worry - and all thanks to BIC's innovative approach to the pen/gender interface. With a BIC For Her pen, my hands look normal ( and possibly even slightly on the large side). No longer am I the butt of jokes at work and my confidence levels have soared. Even better I can order online with Amazon and receive the pens under plain cover so no-one need know my secret. Thank you BIC.


Breakdown
Breakdown
by Katherine Amt Hanna
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.64

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks tension and well-sketched characters, 15 Aug 2012
This review is from: Breakdown (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I received this through the Amazon Vine programme and although I like good post-apocalyptic novels, this was very disappointing.
The tale of Chris Price, an ex-rock star who survives a pandemic in 2000 and struggles to find his family, the book struggles for structure, any dramatic tension whatsoever and well-drawn characters - any line of dialogue could belong to any of them.
Initially set when Chris meets up with his brother and ex-band mate in a commune near Bath, the book suddenly dives back to the previous year when Chris receives therapy for his traumas from Pauline and inevitably they are drawn together. We then get back to the original timeline and things get drawn to a neat conclusion. Whilst the story is set in England with English characters it is strewn with Americanisms such as butt, ass, highway and "math". The author also thinks the everyone calls a toilet a "loo" and even refers to this outside reported speech.
The horrors of the pandemic are mostly glossed over and there is little description of the impact on society - what there is is confused (bartering and money? Soldiers and gangs? Maybe but there is no evidence of why this is all coherent.
On the plus side it's an easy read and feels quasi-English, but the minuses outweigh these considerably. I think the author was brave to try and write a story about therapy set in a post-apocalyptic world and the idea of a rock star made equal by a disaster is interesting, but it just doesn't work. The lyrics from made-up songs from Chris's band at the start of various chapters are toe-curlingly embarrassing.
A nice idea, poorly executed.


The Rough Guide to Spain
The Rough Guide to Spain
by Simon Baskett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.89

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updated and comprehensive, 29 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had a 1997 version of the Rough guide to Spain, but was offered a new version via the amazon Vine programme. I took it because we're off to Spain again soon and I wanted as up to date version as possible . There are several obvious improvements over the version I had (I'm not sure how often RG update each volume) - pesetas are replaced by Euros, colour has been added to aid navigation and also to photos and maps and there are a couple of hundred extra pages. I love the RH series because it's written so clearly by people who clearly know what they are talking about. We're off to Barcelona and really appreciated the following about the aquarium: "it's vastly overpriced and despite the claims of excellence it offers few new experiences." It's not all negative stuff though and it's essential reading when preparing for your trip to Spain - or indeed anywhere. Priceless.


The 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Practice Book with Assessment Tests (Ages 10-11)
The 11+ Non-Verbal Reasoning Practice Book with Assessment Tests (Ages 10-11)
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential preparation, 29 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book forms part of the mandatory preparation required for the 11+ exam. It consists of 17 pages of preparation work with examples and warm-up tests covering shapes, counting, pointing, shading and line types, order and position, rotation, reflection and layering. Following the initial section are 5 assessment tests covering the areas covered in section 1 spread over 60 pages. All the answers are provided in a folded-over section (don't peek until you've answered the question ;-). The neat things about the answers are that they don't just say "a" is correct. They say things like "B all figures must have exactly one shield shape". So when you get something wrong (which is eminently feasible for adults helping their children!) you get a clear explanation of why you got it wrong. I got this free via the amazon Vine programme, but the price seems reasonable, especially when you buy 3 together.


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